HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) —
Connecticut education officials, concerned about the emotional trauma children have faced during the coronavirus pandemic, are making social and emotional learning a priority as schools make plans to reopen in the fall.
Gov. Ned Lamont met with education and mental health officials to discuss the issue in a video conference Friday. He announced a partnership between the state and Yale University for a program that is designed to train teachers in how to deal with the stress they and their students have been facing since March.
Lamont said he knew the state was having an issue when children who had been isolated at home for months began calling the state’s 2-1-1 hotline this summer, looking for someone to talk to about their fears, loneliness and other issues.
“We got social workers there; we got other young people for them to talk to,” he said. “It just reminded me again how important it is that we reach out to the whole kid to make sure we are there for them. And that also is true of the teachers as well.”
The training program, developed by Yale’s Center for Emotional Intelligence, is a 10-hour course designed to give teachers some skills and strategies that will help them understand and manage their own emotions and those of their students.
“The course is a little bit of theory, a little bit of science, but a whole lot of practical strategies,” said Marc Beckett, the program’s founder and director. “It’s all about we as teachers being compassionate emotion scientists, helping students explore what works best for them.”
Beckett said without strategies to deal with mental-health issues, the brains of both teachers and students will “go into weird places.”
“We engage in catastrophic thinking. We go into survival mode, not into teaching mode, not into learning mode,” he said.
The course is being offered to all Connecticut school staff, including teachers, paraprofessionals, counselors, principals, and non-teaching staff through a grant from Dalio Education, a private foundation set up by billionaire hedge fund manager Ray Dalio and his wife, Barbara.
State Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona said he hopes that teachers will pass on what they learn to parents, many of whom have taken on a greater role in their children’s education during the pandemic.
“As we move into the fall, knowing that there will be opportunities for in person learning and remote learning and it might change throughout, we really need to be cognizant of how these skills that we learn in this wonderful program translate into the communication that we have with families,” he said.
Lily Eskelsen García, President of the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teacher’s union, said she’s hopeful that other states will follow Connecticut’s lead.
“Connecticut, you really are the cool kids right now,” Garcia said during the video conference. “We have been trying to get 49 other states to take social-emotional learning seriously.”